The seminal events of this lackluster opening week for the Phils emanated from the starting pitching. Everyone knew that starting pitching would be the keystone to the success of this year’s Phillies, but no one expected it to be so bad so early. Supposed staff ace Jon Lieber turned in a clunker on Opening Day when he allowed eight runs without getting out of the fourth inning in a 13-5 loss that would set the tone for this team. Brett Myers followed two nights later with an outing in which he labored against the NL’s best lineup but managed to stagger through five innings. Cory Lidle, the team’s best starter through the first two weeks, put together a decent outing on Thursday but the Phils were unable to muster a win. Gavin Floyd followed with another clunker on Friday where he never made it out of the third inning against the Dodgers on the way to another futile loss.
Even the bullpen has not been immune from the pitching woes.
After Rheal Cormier failed to strand two inherited runners on Wednesday as the Braves threatened to help the Phillies snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, every member of the supposedly revamped bullpen has been ineffective in at least one outing in the first week of play. Even closer Tom Gordon melted down during his first appearance as the Phils’ closer. The fact that the bullpen has vacillated wildly between success and failure during the first week of April does little to inspire confidence that it will hold up over the rigors of a long 162-game schedule, especially with manager Charlie Manuel’s penchant to overuse his relief corps.
But there’s more than enough blame to go around for the Phils futility in the Opening Week and the starting eight must share responsibility with their pitching teammates.
After Saturday’s rainout the defense stayed on the sidelines well into Sunday’s first game of the double-header. The defensive meltdown, which had shown signs of collapse all throughout the team’s first week, chose to come to a head when the team was most in need of a quality start. Ryan Madson, making only his second Major League start, was burdened when his defense misplayed three balls out of the first seven hitters that came to the plate.
Is it any wonder then why the Phillies have had so much trouble getting a starter through five innings when they consistently misplay balls and commit errors behind them?
Even the games the Phillies have managed to win in this futile stretch were hard on the eyes because of poor fundamental play by the home nine, and ultimately, it was fundamental mistakes by their opponents that allowed them to notch those victories, not their own merits. In game one of Sunday’s double-header, fans forget that it was an error by Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal that was responsible for starting the Phils eventual game-winning ninth inning rally. Likewise, it was an error on Braves shortstop Edgar Renteria that contributed to the Phillies four run second inning rally on Wednesday night against the Braves, en route to their 7-5 win.
Did we mention that the Phils are hitting a league-worst .190 with runners in scoring position?
The Phillies have earned a record somewhere between their current 2-6 dossier and a very plausible 0-8 fate if they hadn’t capitalized on the mistakes of their opponents. The Phils haven’t played the kind of crisp defense they played in the spring that carried them to a franchise record 19 Grapefruit League wins and that is necessary to compete at the Major League level. Add to that the performances of the woefully inefficient starting pitching and it is bound to be a long summer for the men in red. This team’s slide will not turn around until they make a commitment to playing the game fundamentally sound and pitch to their capabilities.
Until then, it’s going be a long 153 games.